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2. The servant of the Lord 41:1-44:22
There is an emphasis on the uniqueness of the Lord compared to other gods in this section, a theme that Isaiah introduced earlier (ch. 40 especially). The prophet particularly stressed Yahweh’s ability to control history in this connection. He did this to assure Israel that God loved her and had a future for her beyond the Exile, specifically to serve Him by demonstrating to the world that He is sovereign over history. These emphases become increasingly apparent as the section unfolds. Calls to praise form bridges from one section to the next (Isaiah 42:10-13; cf. Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 45:8).
God’s purposes for His servants 42:10-44:22
The section of Isaiah that I have titled "God’s promises to His servants" (Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 42:9) sets the stage and introduces themes that Isaiah proceeded to develop in this section. Those themes are the certainty of redemption (Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 43:7), the witness to redemption (Isaiah 43:8 to Isaiah 44:20), and the memory of redemption (Isaiah 44:21-22).
The witness to redemption 43:8-44:20
Isaiah continued to show that Yahweh was both willing and able to deliver His people, a theme begun in Isaiah 42:10. He confronted the gods, again (cf. Isaiah 41:21-29), but this time he challenged them to bring forth witnesses to their deity, namely, people who could confirm their ability to predict the future. The captive Judeans were Yahweh’s witnesses. They would, despite their spiritual blindness and deafness, give witness to His ability to predict their salvation and to accomplish it.
God would make His people the evidence of His deity (Isaiah 43:8-13).
The Lord again summoned His chosen servant Israel to pay attention to what He was about to say (cf. Isaiah 43:1). Judgment was not Yahweh’s final word to His people. This new word would be good news in contrast to what had immediately preceded (cf. Isaiah 43:28).
Yahweh, the covenant God who formed Israel into a nation, would help her. Therefore His chosen servant should not fear (cf. Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1) even though Israel had fallen far short of God’s desires for her. The endearing name "Jeshurun" means "upright one" (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26). Even though Israel had stumbled badly, she was still upright because God had held her up. "Jacob" (deceiver) may represent what Israel was in the past and "Jeshurun" (upright) what she would be in the future.
The Lord promised to pour out His Spirit on the Israelites in the future. This gift would have the same effect for the nation as pouring water on dry ground would have for the landscape. It would bring refreshment and new life, indeed, a whole new spiritual attitude (cf. Isaiah 32:15; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Ezekiel 37:7-10; Joel 2:28-29). Blessing would come to the descendants of Isaiah’s audience. Isaiah in this verse may have meant that God would bring both physical and spiritual refreshment. Other passages reveal that He will send physical refreshment (cf. Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:18).
Since this is a promise specifically to the Israelites, they would be the special recipients of this outpouring. Thus it must still be future. The giving of the Spirit in the apostolic age, first on the day of Pentecost and then on several subsequent occasions, was not a gift to Israel but to the church, not to Jews uniquely but to Jews and Gentiles equally (cf. Acts 11:15). Both outpourings have the result of making the recipients witnesses.
Then the Israelites would grow like flowers among the grass and like poplars planted beside streams of water (cf. Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8). The Old Testament writers often regarded numerous progeny as a sign of divine blessing (cf. Genesis 15:5; Psalms 127:3-5).
In that day it will be an honor to be a member of the nation of Israel (cf. Psalms 87:4-6), not a dishonor (cf. Isaiah 43:28; Ezekiel 36:19-20). Many people will come to Yahweh because of His blessing on Israel. It is difficult to know whether the "ones" mentioned here are Israelites or Gentiles. Some will even write their identification with Yahweh on their hands. The Mosaic Law forbade the Israelites from disfiguring their bodies (Leviticus 19:28). These Israelites will not be living under the Mosaic Law, which Jesus Christ ended. Besides, these names may not be permanent disfigurements. This was a practice of some people in the ancient world who wanted to make their commitment to some individual prominent (cf. Deuteronomy 6:8). A soldier sometimes wrote the name of his commander on his hand, a slave bore the name of his master, and a devotee did the same with the name of his god. This is probably not a reference to people taking the mark of the Lamb and His Father during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1). That mark will appear on the foreheads of the 144,000. Moreover, the Tribulation will not be when people will honor the Israelites. That will follow, in the Millennium.
The Israelites would be God’s witnesses (Isaiah 44:6-8), but the idols have no true witnesses (Isaiah 44:9-20). This is the climactic section of Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 44:22, "God’s purposes for His servants." God’s claims (Isaiah 44:6-8) contrast with the folly of idolatry and the worldview from which it springs (Isaiah 44:9-20). God’s initiative contrasts with human initiative.
With the titles he chose, the Lord highlighted His special relationship with Israel, His intentions for the nation, and His ability to fulfill those intentions. As Israel’s near kinsman, He would not allow her to perish. He is incomparable; there is no one like Him. The gods are not God. The same terminology used in this verse describes Jesus Christ later in Scripture (Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13).
The proof of God’s uniqueness is His ability to foretell the future and then bring it to pass. Anyone who claims to be able to do this must prove to God that he has done it. God’s creation of Israel and His revelation of the future to and through her is the great proof of His deity.
The Israelites should not fear even though they were heading for captivity. God had told them that they would return from captivity as well as go into it. When they did return, they would be able to witness to the world that the Lord had predicted and performed both events. In the meantime they could seek refuge in their Rock, their only support and protector.
"The character of God is the ultimate assurance of His people." [Note: Motyer, p. 345.]
Seeking refuge in idols is not only fruitless but fatal (Isaiah 44:9-20). The idols have no witnesses to their ability to forecast and control the future. They are nothing (Isaiah 44:9-11), and their worshippers are confused (Isaiah 44:12-17) and blind (Isaiah 44:18-20). If Isaiah could show that it was foolish to think that supreme power resided in an idol, he could expose the heresy of paganism. This he did in this pericope.
"This extended exposé was doubtless intended to strengthen the Jews against the allurements of paganism during the long captivity in Babylon." [Note: Archer, p. 640.]
The prophet began by stating his premise. Idol makers engage in futile (Heb. tohu) activity because the idols they make do not profit people. Those who promote idol worship do not see the folly of idolatry themselves, and they will be ashamed by the failure of their gods.
This rhetorical question means, who would be so foolish as to fashion an idol when it does not profit anyone? The whole idea of making idols seemed ridiculous to Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 43:10).
"Isaiah points to the mere humanity of the craftsmen (10-11), their frailty (12) and the man-dominated conceptions governing their theology (13)." [Note: Motyer, p. 347.]
All the companions of the craftsman who makes an idol, other idolaters, will be put to shame, namely, idol worshippers as well as idol makers. The reason is that the makers of these gods are mere men. Rather than God creating man, man creates gods (cf. Romans 1:23). This makes man superior to his gods. The fact that there are many people in this group of idol makers and worshippers does not change the fact that all of them will be ashamed by the impotence of their gods.
Isaiah 44:12-17 describe the construction of an idol, which process witnesses to the inability of idols to do anything. This whole section bristles with sarcasm.
". . . man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." [Note: Calvin, Institutes . . ., 1.11.8 (1:108).]
The man who would make a god has to expend a great deal of effort on it. Some English translations give the impression that in this verse the blacksmith is fashioning a tool with which to make an idol, but the idol itself is really in view. Making an idol is a laborious and exhausting process. God, of course, did not grow weary making man; He made him with a word. Furthermore, because God made the Israelites, they did not need to grow weary (Isaiah 40:28-31). Because He carried them (Isaiah 45:20; Isaiah 46:3), they did not need to become hungry and thirsty (Isaiah 43:19-20).
Idol-making is a complex process involving many steps and requiring much activity and some human skill. The whole idea is to create a god in the closest possible likeness to man, supposedly the highest form of life, complete with man’s needs. Here a carpenter rather than a blacksmith is the craftsman. The type of craftsman really does not matter since any human will do. One idol may be in view in Isaiah 44:12-13, first carved out of wood and then adorned with metal, or Isaiah may have had in mind two different idols, one metal and the other wood.
"We have not progressed beyond that today. The doctrine called humanism is only an abstract form of this age-old effort. We will be God, and God will be us." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, pp. 180-81.]
As shepherds raised some sheep for sacrifice, so the idol craftsman, here a forester, planted a tree with a view to making a god out of it one day "for himself." He wanted wood that would not rot, but the type of wood itself really does not matter. The god is perfectly passive and dependent on its human creator throughout the whole process. How can such a creation possibly help people?
The craftsman uses one piece of wood to make an idol, and another piece out of the same tree-as fuel-to warm and feed himself. Actually, the piece he burns does him more good than the piece he worships. The piece burned serves man and delivers him from the cold and hunger, but the piece not burned demands human service and only promises deliverance (cf. Acts 17:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4-8). Instead of thanking the Creator for the wood, the idolater uses what the Creator has made to make a god in his own image that he thanks (cf. Romans 1:18-23).
The leftover piece becomes the idol. How can what is the result of human effort and care, an idol, put forth any effort and care for its builder? Worshipping and praying to a graven image is absurd (cf. Matthew 6:7-8).
"Diagoras of Melos, a pupil of Democritus, once threw a wooden standing figure of Hercules into the fire, and said jocularly, ’Come now, Hercules, perform thy thirteenth labor, and help me to cook the turnips.’" [Note: Delitzsch, 2:211.]
"John Knox, in decrying the idolatry of the Mass, parodied this passage with devastating effect: ’With part of the flour you make bread to eat, with the residue you fashion a god to fall down before’." [Note: Archer, p. 640.]
Isaiah concluded his exposé of paganism by highlighting the blindness of idol worshippers.
Pagans do not see the folly of idol-worship because God has blinded their minds (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10; Isaiah 29:14). Having chosen to refuse the revelation of God that He has given them in nature, He makes it impossible for them to see the truth (cf. Romans 1:18-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11). If this were not the case, they would understand and abandon their practices, since it is so clear that man-made gods are not deity.
Modern man is in the same position as his ancient counterpart. Westerners do not cut down trees and fashion blocks of wood into idols that we put on shelves in our houses and bow down to. But we work long hours to be able to purchase some man-made object (of clothing, jewelry, transportation, communication, entertainment, etc.) that we then hope will provide us with what only God can provide. Tragically, we do not even view this as idolatry because we, too, are blind.
Pursuing idols is like feeding on ashes. No satisfaction, but instead eventual disgust and death, follow. The idol is good for nothing but burning (Isaiah 44:15), and the person who worships an idol will finally find himself with nothing but ashes instead of an idol. The person who pursues this path to satisfaction has been deceived by his own heart. He cannot deliver himself out of such a trap. He has become addicted. He must cry out for deliverance to Another-who has the power to enlighten the blind.
This chiastic verse reiterates a theme from Deuteronomy, namely, remembering what God has revealed (cf. Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 9:7). God called His people to remember the truths about Himself that this section of the book emphasizes: He is the only God who foretells and then creates history, and the idols of the nations are nothing. Bearing these truths in mind would enable Israel to fulfill her purpose in the world, namely, to be the Lord’s servant. The nation had not yet fulfilled that purpose, and the Lord would not forget her but would enable her to fulfill it. He would not cast her off.
"Within the immediate context the call to ’remember’ (21) forges a link with what has preceded: (i) the idolater has been busy ’fashioning’ (9-10, 12) his idol, but Israel has been ’fashioned’ (21; NIV made) by the Lord; (ii) the idolater is bound to his idol (18-20), but Israel is the Lord’s bondman (servant; 21); (iii) the idolater prayed pathetically Save me (17), but to Israel the Lord says I have redeemed you (22-23); (iv) the idolater bowed to a block of wood/’tree stump’ (bul ’es; 19), but now every tree (kol ’es) is summoned to rejoice in the Lord (23)." [Note: Motyer, p. 349.]
The memory of redemption 44:21-22
This brief section is a call to God’s people to embrace God’s promises. It concludes this section of the prophecy (Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 44:22) by affirming that God would not abandon the Israelites because of their sins, but would deliver them, and even use them to demonstrate His unique deity.
What Israel needed above all was forgiveness and cleansing from her sins (cf. Isaiah 43:25). The Lord had taken the initiative to provide this for His people. He would blow their sin away as quickly and as easily as a wind blows a cloud or mist away.
"The clouds intervene between heaven and earth as sin and transgressions intervene between God and His people." [Note: Young, 3:183.]
"Jehovah has blotted out Israel’s sin, inasmuch as He does not impute it any more, and thus has redeemed Israel." [Note: Delitzsch, 2:214.]
Yet God’s people must respond to His initiative by returning to Him. He had provided redemption in the Exodus, but it was only the first of several redemptions that He would provide. He would redeem them from captivity by using His servant Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28), and He would redeem them from sin by using His Servant Messiah at His first advent. He would also redeem them from captivity in the Tribulation by using His Servant Messiah at His second advent.
The summary reference to redemption in Isaiah 44:22 (cf. Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 44:22) prepares the reader for the next section of Isaiah’s prophecy.
3. The Lord’s redemption of His servant 44:23-47:15
Isaiah began this section of the book dealing with God’s grace to Israel (chs. 40-48) by glorifying God as the incomparable Lord of His servant Israel (ch. 40). Then he explained God’s promises to (Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 42:9) and His purposes for (Isaiah 42:10 to Isaiah 44:22) His servants. This leads into a more particular revelation of the redemption that God had in store for Israel (Isaiah 44:23 to Isaiah 47:15).
This verse concludes the thought expressed in the preceding one, thus many translations and commentators regard it as the end of the preceding section. However, it is a hymnic call to praise similar to the one in Isaiah 42:10-13, and it seems to introduce what follows, as that earlier call to praise did. The content of the praise also points ahead to what follows, rather then backward to what has preceded. It provides a very smooth transition.
Isaiah again called on all the elements of the created universe to witness something. Earlier they witnessed Israel’s rebellion (cf. Isaiah 1:2), but now they witness Israel’s salvation. As in the previous verse (Isaiah 44:22), redemption is spoken of as already complete. This is the translation of the Hebrew prophetic perfect tense verb that speaks of things in the future as though they had already happened in the past-because they are certain to occur. A future redemption is in view that will manifest Yahweh’s glory. This becomes clear in the verses that follow.
The announcement of redemption 44:23-28
The section begins with an announcement of the salvation that God would provide for His chosen people.
The Lord prefaced His stunning prediction with a reminder of who was making it. He was Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God who had redeemed her and would yet redeem her. He had brought her into existence by Himself, as He had created all things including the heavens and the earth (cf. Isaiah 40:12-14; Isaiah 40:21-22). The often repeated phrase "Thus says the LORD" in this part of Isaiah engenders confidence in the promises of redemption that follow (cf. Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 45:18).
God embarrasses astrologers, diviners, and fortunetellers by controlling history in ways that deviate from past patterns. Ancient and modern prognosticators usually base their predictions on the belief that things will work out in the future as they have in the past. But Yahweh can move future events in entirely new directions. Archaeologists have discovered many predictions of the future of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires among Babylonian writings, but they are consistently optimistic; none are messages announcing the fall of these kingdoms. [Note: See C. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, pp. 156-57.] He can do things never before done.
Conversely, Yahweh could bring the predictions that He had revealed to His servant Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 20:3), and His messengers the prophets, to pass. Here he predicted that Jerusalem and the cities of Judah would be rebuilt, after their destruction by the Babylonians.
God is the one who dried up the Red Sea during the Exodus. He could likewise dry up rivers in the future to bring His will to pass (cf. Isaiah 48:21). Herodotus wrote that Cyrus overthrew Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River that ran under its walls. He then used the riverbed to storm the city. Young claimed that cuneiform records from the region have shown that Herodotus’ account was in error. [Note: Young, 3:191.] God’s promises covered both the rebuilding of Judah’s cities (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 44:28) and the exiles’ return home.
God announced that Cyrus would be the person who would allow Jerusalem to be rebuilt and the temple foundations relaid. The mention of his name climaxes this prophecy (Isaiah 44:24-28). Cyrus would be the Lord’s shepherd, the one who would lead the Israelites back into their land by permitting its restoration. He would carry out all God’s desire (cf. Isaiah 41:2-3; Isaiah 41:25).
The title "My Shepherd" was one that God used of the Davidic kings (cf. 2 Samuel 5:2; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34:23). The fact that He used it here of a pagan monarch shows that God would use pagans to fulfill His wishes-since the Davidic kings had proved unreliable (cf. Isaiah 7:13; Isaiah 39:7). This was indeed a new thing that God had not done before (cf. Isaiah 43:19).
"In a wonderfully ingenious way, just as the foreigner, Ruth, became an ancestress of David (Ruth 4:13-22), the foreigner Cyrus typifies the Davidic Messiah (Isaiah 53:10; Zechariah 11:4; Zechariah 13:7; John 8:29; John 10:11)." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 197.]
Cyrus (559-530 B.C.) issued his decree to allow the Jewish exiles to return and rebuild Jerusalem in 538 B.C. This happened about 190 years after Isaiah announced this prophecy. Josephus recorded that Cyrus read Isaiah’s prophecy predicting that he himself-Cyrus-would send the Israelites back to Palestine to rebuild the temple, and that he desired to fulfill this very prediction. [Note: Josephus, 11:1:2. ] Josephus also dated Isaiah’s prophecy 140 years before the destruction of the temple, namely, about 726 B.C. The Persian monarch had not even been born at this time. When Isaiah made this prophecy his hearers probably said to one another: "Who did he say would do this? Who is Cyrus?"
This prophecy is the primary reason that critics on the unity of Isaiah have insisted that Isaiah of Jerusalem could not possibly have written this prediction. It must have been written, they say, sometime after Cyrus issued his decree. [Note: See Allis, pp. 51-61, for refutation of this common viewpoint.] However, the point that Yahweh was making throughout this book was that He alone could predict and create the future. For a similar prophecy involving Josiah, who had not yet been born, see 1 Kings 13:2.
Motyer noted parallels between Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 48:22 and Isaiah 49:1 to Isaiah 53:12. [Note: Motyer, p. 352.] These sections provide the solutions to Israel’s double need: national bondage (cf. Isaiah 42:18 to Isaiah 43:21) and spiritual sinfulness (cf. Isaiah 43:22 to Isaiah 44:22).
|The work of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:24 to Isaiah 48:22)||The work of the Servant (Isaiah 49:1-53:12)|
|The tIsa_44:24-28 ask stated and the agent named (Isaiah 44:24-28)||The task stated and the agent named|
|The task confirmed: to Israel and the world (Isaiah 45:1-7)||The task confirmed: to Israel and the world (Isaiah 49:7-12)|
|The response: prayer (Isaiah 45:8)||The response: praise (Isaiah 49:13)|
|Israel’s disquiet (Isaiah 45:9-25)||Israel’s despondency (Isaiah 49:14 to Isaiah 50:11)|
|• The Lord’s purpose affirmed (Isaiah 45:9-13)||• The Lord’s love affirmed (Isaiah 49:14-16)|
|• Israel and Gentiles (Isaiah 45:14-22)||• Israel and Gentiles (Isaiah 49:17-26)|
|• Those who find righteousness and strength in the supreme Lord and those who oppose Him (Isaiah 45:23-25)||• The Servant, the exemplar of those who find strength and vindication in the Almighty Lord (Isaiah 50:1-11)|
|The Lord’s care for Israel - from the beginning through to the coming salvation (Isaiah 46:1-13)||The Lord’s care for Israel - from the beginning through to the coming salvation (Isaiah 51:1-16)|
|Babylon: from the throne to the dust (Isaiah 47:1-15)||Zion: from the dust to the throne|
(Isaiah 51:17 to Isaiah 52:12)
|Redemption from Babylon (Isaiah 48:1-22)||Redemption from sin (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12)|
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany